by Russell S. Glowatz
Our traveling circus has been traversing the world, converting novice initiates into dedicated disciples, going on 52 years now. The Grateful Dead and its psychedelic rodeo have been at the forefront of this phenomenon, organically amassing the most ardent assembly of apostles in modern history. Father to son, mother to daughter, sibling to sibling, colleague to colleague, and friend to friend, one turned on to this wonderful world via an apprenticeship of sorts. A passing of a tape, vinyl record, or CD, and nowadays, a FLAC, or a YouTube link, aroused the senses early on, planting seeds of devotion that for many would blossom into full on immersion. Heading to a show, whether Grateful Dead in the glory days, or an offshoot band in the present, was a rite of passage, a graduation day of sorts, where one experienced the full measure of what this eccentric scene has to offer. If you’re reading this, you likely never looked back, and have self-identified as a bona fide Deadhead ever since. Whether you had that first life altering Grateful Dead adventure in ’65, 2017, or in between, the only qualification for a Deadhead is an appreciation for the music of the Grateful Dead, period. You alone define your level of devotion, and never let anyone convince you otherwise.
Lately it occurs to me that the age-old conflict, of what makes one a Deadhead, has reemerged on the information super shakedown in epic proportions. In Grateful Dead community groups across Facebook, the battle usually centers around whether or not one saw Jerry play in the flesh, and if bearing witness is an essential prerequisite for a Deadhead. A version of this argument has existed in one form or another since 1973, when Pigpen checked out. It more or less centers around whether one saw the band in its true form, and has the war stories to prove it. The Keith/Donna generation took shit from the Pig generation, and some Godchaux-era initiates wouldn’t hesitate to brand the Brent-era Deadheads as inauthentic. Then the “Touchheads,” arriving after the critical success of “In The Dark,” experienced the brunt of this thinking from the late eighties until Jerry’s demise. In present time, its post-Jerry Deadheads feeling the heat, and in a decade or two, post-Core Four Deadheads will confront this same travesty of thinking.
There is a noticeable ebb and flow, yet presently this perpetual conflict is galloping full steam ahead. In most of the GD Facebook enclaves, diatribes questioning the legitimacy of post-Jerry Deadheads have once again become par for the course. As our community continues to expand its younger ranks, many youngins pop on these Facebook groups to find community, support, and advice as they explore the slippery slopes of the Deadosphere. Often they meet negativity and vitriol at the door. Why, you might ask, after coming off the highs of the best Dead & Company tour to date, would such a negative vibe be permeating the virtual realm of our scene? Perhaps, in part, this trend continues because the internet often appeals to our base instincts. But the reason is less important than the reality that Deadhead trolling is a nuisance.
So to the Deadhead that finds the need to promote contempt for youngins on the web, maybe take a moment to remember why we’re all here. Our obsession with the music of the Grateful Dead is at the forefront, and our mutually tacit belief in karma and kindness guides us through this trip. An abundance of post-Jerry heads abide by these same ideals. Empathy is key here. Remember when you were green? Do you recollect that first time on lot looking for a ticket, when that tour vet taught you the magic of waving a pointer finger high? Recall that time when the kind older head gifted you a miracle, that night you got your first “Morning Dew!?” We were all young once, and without schooling from those that came before us, we’d be left ignorant, acting a fool, sucking balloons in the lot, not realizing the main event lies only feet away. Perhaps the next time you feel the urge to vent about the cluelessness of the younger generation at large, put yourself in their shoes for a minute, and if what you got serves nothing but to stroke your own ego, please keep that garbage to yourself. Yet if you find your able to take a constructive spin on things, please educate, for without it, we’d all be lost.
To younger Deadheads that feel less than for coming of age after the death of Jerry Garcia, do not let a disgruntled minority of jaded old timers discourage you from delving deeper down the grateful rabbit hole. You may have missed the Captain, but this ship of fools still sails smoothly, and there’s plenty of room onboard. You were not born at the wrong time. The scene today is as vibrant as ever, and we are supremely fortunate to participate. The Core Four is alive and well, still spreading the gospel, recruiting new talent, to bring us the most authentic and energized live music experiences they can. The jam band scene at large is in a golden age. Countless innovatively improvisational acts are popping up daily, and in the spirit of the Grateful Dead, they constantly push boundaries and take this thing of ours to the limit. We are supremely fortunate, and never let anyone else convince you otherwise.
Maybe we all could take a step back and embrace the clarity that such distance brings. Whether on the internet, or in person, lets aim to love each other, and let our words reflect that love. Let us be critical too, for we are Deadheads after all, but let that criticism come from a place of constructiveness. Let’s be grateful that the music will not stop with us, but live on in the souls of the coming dawn. Let’s open our hearts and minds to the next generations, and school them as humbly as we can. Respect is a two-way street. If we aim to help the newbies assimilate, as opposed to delegitimizing their existence, we’d serve ourselves by nurturing a mindful, respectful, and humble new class of Deadheads. The Grateful Dead world remains in its infancy. Our big bang happened only 52 years ago, and our universe is ever-expanding. Let’s be the best possible ambassadors to tomorrow, and if we strive towards this goal, we will engender a mutual respect with our Deadhead descendants.
Our past is storied, and our present is bright. With the faith and fortitude of thousands, our community blossomed organically, yet was built to last. Collectively we’ve persevered through the perils of a half century, and confidence is high that Deadheads, in large gatherings and small, will one day celebrate our centennial with the same serene spirit that embodied Fare Thee Well. Budding Deadheads are listening to the music play for the first time, right in this moment. Not even a twinkle in their mama’s eye, prospective Deadheads have yet to see the light of day. We must welcome these folks, with open arms, for they are our future. We must show them the ropes, and school them with a spirit of equality. We must remind them that there’s no requirement for membership, except an appreciation for Grateful Dead tunes; you are what you say you are. If anyone ever tells you otherwise, feel free to point them towards this article (or THIS). Going forward, as karma guides you, let kindness be your watchword, and may the four winds blow you safely home.
© Watts Glow Grateful Productions, 2017.